Unlike previous lethal viruses, this one will define a major election

From a single case in Snohomish County, Wash., on Jan. 21, the coronavirus has mushroomed in less than 10 months to a widening scourge currently infecting nearly 100,000 Americans a day. As Election Day voters prepared to cast their ballots Tuesday, the medical examiner in El Paso was adding a fourth refrigerated “mobile morgue,” and hospitals in northwest Wisconsin were canceling elective procedures to save beds for patients with covid-19, the disease caused by the virus.

Two-thirds of the public now personally know one of the 9.25 million people who have tested positive for the virus — a new high — polls show. And even more think the worst of the pandemic is yet to come.

“We’ve never had an Election Day in the fog of a pandemic like this,” said Howard Markel, a medical historian at the University of Michigan. “It will, perhaps, be called the pandemic election.”

How those factors affect turnout and results won’t be known until evening, and perhaps not for days or weeks to come. But it is already clear that Tuesday will mark a singular modern-day confluence of a U.S. public health crisis and the election of a president.

“To my knowledge, it’s unprecedented,” said Harvey V. Fineberg, president of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation and co-author of “The Epidemic That Never Was,” an analysis of the federal swine flu immunization program in 1976. “Which means one has no basis for comparison.”

In the 1920 presidential election, voters faced a waning threat from the pandemic flu, there was no flu vaccine, and public health was seen as a local issue that did not merit intervention by the president. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention did not exist. Even during the 1918 off-year election, the pathogen that would eventually kill 675,000 Americans was not a major subject of debate, Markel said.

Periodic flu outbreaks during ensuing decades did not move the political needle much either.

The worst polio outbreaks, in the 1940s and early 1950s, tended to wane as the weather cooled, and the virus was eventually quelled by successful testing of a vaccine in 1955.

Even HIV, which drove activists into the streets, had little impact at election time, at least during the epidemic’s first decade. President Ronald Reagan, who took office in 1981, the year the virus was first recognized, famously would not utter the word “AIDS” until 1987.

Tuesday will be much different.

“I have no idea what it will do in terms of turnout,” said Tom Inglesby, director of the Center for Health Security at the Bloomberg School of Public Health.

“What I’m hoping is that people are not afraid to vote in person if they haven’t voted yet,” he added. “Because I do think it’s possible to vote in a way where you can control your risk so that it wouldn’t be too different from going to the grocery store or going to the pharmacy.”

That includes voting in the late morning or early afternoon, when crowds are

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Number of new cases last week double previous week’s total

The number of new coronavirus cases last week was not only a record for Midland County but was double the total of new cases from one week earlier.

The 535 new cases reported by the Midland Health Department last week was 117 more than the previous high total during the pandemic (418 from July 19-25), but also was one shy of doubling the total from Oct. 11-17 (268).

Statistics also showed this past week’s increase was the fifth increase in weekly cases in six weeks (since Sept. 6-12, when health department officials reported 79 cases in one week – a low during the summer).

The case count in Midland County last week also was noteworthy as it represented the first time during the pandemic that there were 100 or more cases during all five reporting days.

The health department also reported 1,783 active cases (an increase of 308 week over week) and 2,854 recoveries (an increase of 208). There were four COVID-19-related deaths reported last week – including two on Saturday. The number of deaths last week was one more death than the previous week.

The deaths reported on Saturday bring the total during the pandemic to 92.

The 91st patient is a man in his 70s who had underlying health conditions and was being treated at Midland Memorial Hospital. He died Friday.

The 92nd patient is a man in his 80s who had underlying health conditions and was being treated at MMH. He died Saturday.

Most cases in a week

Oct. 19-22        535

July 19-25         418

Aug. 2-8           414

July 26-Aug. 1  372

Coronavirus report

Monday: 106

Tuesday: 116

Wednesday: 105

Thursday: 104

Friday 104

By weeks

March 15-21     3

March 22-28     8

March 29-April 4          13

April 5-11         8

April 12-18       10

April 19-25       29

April 26-May 2 13

May 3-9            17

May 10-16        19

May 17-23        4

May 24-30        5

May 31-June 6  26

June 7-June 13  46

June 14-20        121

June 21-27        241

June 28-July 4   209

July 5-11          335

July 12-18         283

July 19-25         418

July 26-Aug. 1  372

Aug. 2-8           414

Aug. 9-15         297

Aug. 16-22       194

Aug. 23-29       157

Aug. 30-Sept. 5 123

Sept. 6-12         79

Sept. 13-19       110

Sept. 20-26       156

Sept. 27-Oct. 3  236

Oct. 4-10          233

Oct. 11-17        268

Oct. 18-24           535

Total number of deaths

By weeks

July 5-11          4

July 12-18         6

July 19-25         10

July 26-Aug. 1  7

Aug. 2-8           7

Aug. 9-15         4

Aug. 16-22       9

Aug. 23-29       5

Aug. 30-Sept. 5 6

Sept. 6-12         4

Sept. 13-19       4

Sept. 20-26       2

Sept. 27-Oct. 3  2

Oct. 4-10          0

Oct. 11-17        3

Oct. 18-24        4

Source: Reporter-Telegram records

Larger West Texas counties

Last      This

Week    week

El Paso 31,478  37,263

Lubbock           14,921  16,602

Potter   7,021    7,540

Midland            4,397    4,771

Randall 4,188    4,762

Ector    3,448    3,660

Tom Green       2,452    2,558

Taylor  1,718    1,841


Howard 1,011    1,058

Scurry  951       1,035

Dawson            697                   787

Andrews           547       567

Gaines  454       503

Pecos423          446

Reeves239        256

Brewster           245       246


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